Education: Honors BA in Ancient Classics from Maynooth University/many years’ experience as a screenwriter, novelist, analyst, and editor
Place of Residence: Vancouver, BC (relocating to Los Angeles soon)
Companies Read For: Passage Pictures, TaleFlick, various contests
Jobs Prior To Entering Film: Novelist/magazine editor-in-chief/freelance editor/musician
Favorite Place To Read: Lying flat on the couch with my dog beside me
Favorite Movies: Chinatown, Alien, Miami Vice, Heat, Jaws, Terminator 2, Thelma & Louise, Boogie Nights, Rosemary’s Baby, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Jackie Brown, 12 Angry Men, The Wrestler, The Wages of Fear, Seven, Samurai, The Exorcist, Halloween, In Bruges
Favorite Screenwriters: Shane Black, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, Coen brothers, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Towne, Frances Marion, Martin, McDonagh, Paul Schrader, Billy Wilder, William Goldman, Akira Kurosawa, David Mamet
Favorite Directors: Michael Mann, John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa
Favorite Books: Jesus’ Son, Get Shorty, The Road, Rebecca, Wizard and Glass, It, Pop. 1280, Double Indemnity, Infinite Jest, The Long Goodbye, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Favorite Authors: Denis Johnson, Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy,
Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Cain, Laura Lippman, Joan Didion, Richard Matheson, Hunter S. Thompson
Favorite TV Shows: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Succession, The Office, Better Call Saul
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU READ A SCRIPT?
The first question I ask myself when I begin reading a script is, does this script
immediately, within the first few pages, grab my attention and hold it? After that I’m
looking at the characters: Are they interesting? Unique? Do I empathize with them as
they face this situation? Characters don’t need to be likable—some of the greatest
characters in all of fiction are detestable—but they should be fascinating to some degree and provoke some kind of empathetic response in the reader/viewer. The third thing I look for with screenplays in particular is how concise the writing is and how effectively the words on the page are being used to paint images and move the story forward.
WHAT MAKES BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS?
Believable characters are human. This means they are flawed—not all-good but not all-bad, either—and they grapple with their conscience in some form as they face dilemmas and tough choices. This is just as true for villainous characters as it is for more virtuous ones. Walter White of BREAKING BAD is an excellent example of a rather detestable, villainous protagonist who is nonetheless human because he is highly flawed and grapples with his conscience in each episode. Tony Soprano is another. Human characters make us feel, and in doing so they make us all more human.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE YOU SEE?
The most common mistake beginner screenwriters make involves underestimating the
importance of structure and the screenplay form itself. A thorough understanding of the basics of screenplay structure is absolutely crucial in order to succeed in this industry, yet many new screenwriters underestimate this necessity and, in a manner more suited to novelists, they allow the language on the page or the characters to lead the way entirely, throwing structure out the window. But there is a fundamental difference between screenplays and novels and this difference arises primarily because screenplays are stories told with images—they are not prose. Understanding the importance of that word “images” is fundamental to mastering the screenplay form.
WHAT KIND OF SCRIPTS ARE YOU MORE LIKELY TO CONSIDER?
Genre-wise, I specialize in crime scripts (every kind of subgenre within), thrillers, horror, and character-driven pieces. However, I wouldn’t necessarily be more likely to consider a script in those genres over any other. Everything comes back to character. Structure is fundamental but ultimately the characters decide if a script lives or dies. If a script is weak in many areas but its characters are truly alive and human—empathetic, flawed, fascinating—this quality alone can go a long way toward possible consideration. Conversely, if a script is strong in every area but its characters are hollow, lifeless and impossible to empathize with, the script likely will not be considered. I also have a special love for great dialogue as it is perhaps the most difficult element to master.
WHAT’S THE BEST SCRIPT YOU’VE EVER READ?
I don’t know if I can choose a “best” script as the beauty of this art form is the
subjectivity of it and the infinite possibilities for originality that unique characters
provide. Having said that, CHINATOWN, written by Robert Towne, is the script that
marked a turning point for me. I first read it many years ago, not long after I had
committed to a career in writing, and instantly I recognized the seemingly effortless
genius of it and knew at once I had to learn how to do that. Shortly after, I studied
Towne’s sublime use of structure as part of a screenwriting course and this was the
turning point in my early journey as a screenwriter which helped me unlock a deeper
understanding of the form. I learned later that Towne’s experience writing that script was anything but effortless, and thank God for that.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE?
I particularly love watching horror movies in a crowded theater. Horror is the only genre that, even when “bad,” provokes both screams and laughter from the audience, often simultaneously. In the darkness of the theater, with the volume up high and the film’s creepy atmosphere slowly ratcheting up the tension, the excitement of the audience is palpable. This is why the theater experience is invaluable.